Our 2019 Junior Marine Biologist day program with Field School was a great success! To learn more about our day, keep reading…
We began our Junior Marine Biologist day program at Hobie Beach in Miami on Saturday, April 27th. Our roster of amazing women in science/program Instructors for the day included Dr. Catherine Macdonald, Director of our partner organization Field School, Julia Whidden, Executive Director of Terranaut Club, as well as Kylie Spado and Marissa Debonis, Field School interns and University of Miami marine science graduate students. The purpose of this program was to learn what it’s like to be a marine biologist from actual female marine biologists, and have some fun with science in nature. We sampled this profession for the day by completing our own project: surveying the seagrass bed ecosystem at a public beach. One of the main conversations we had about the scientific method was to discuss the importance of being thorough. What might happen if we, as marine biologists tasked with surveying the seagrass bed ecosystem, all rushed into the water with masks, snorkels, and fins, and searched around the shallow water for life? Given we were a group of 14 people, we probably wouldn’t find much after creating a rock concert underwater that inevitably scared all of the fish away. So, over the course of our day, we set out to try 3 different sampling methods: (1) BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video systems), (2) snorkeling, and (3) seining. Through the use of 3 different sampling methods (over a longer length of time), we might be able to know all of the different plant and animal species that use this important habitat.
But first thing’s first: we needed to get to know each other! We welcomed our 10 participants to our office/field site for the day, and divided our girls into two teams, distinguished by the pattern of their Waterlust headband made from recycled water bottles: (1) Team Cosmic Coral (2) Team Sun-Kissed Sea. Working in these teams, Instructors Kylie and Marissa each lead a group to brainstorm their own fantastical, unlimited-budget dream BRUV, or Baited Remote Underwater Video system. These structures are meant to sit in the water with bait and a camera attached, to passively survey the nearby plant and animal life. Participants Alexys and Ivy presented their team’s designs to the group, and then we got to building replicas of Marissa’s research BRUV, “Patricia”. We spent around an hour assembling our team BRUVs, named “Mangroove” and “Unigo” (a combination of unicorn and flamingo… obviously) and baited our BRUV systems with delicious Menhaiden bait to attract life. We set them out in the seagrass beds to see what would be attracted over the next few hours!
We then switched to our second and third seagrass surveying methods: snorkeling and seining. While we equipped ourselves with masks and snorkel gear, Field School staff Dr. Catherine and Christian pulled a seine net (a long, short net with a pole on either end) through the seagrass beds. Seine nets typically catch small fish and invertebrates, which we were fortunate to get to see. We ended up meeting juvenile trunkfish, Sargassum fish, pipefish, pygmy seahorses, dragonet fish, green clingfish, white shrimp, and plumed scorpionfish. Sadly (but expectedly), we were not as fortunate on our seagrass snorkeling adventure. While we witnessed beautiful meadows of seagrass swaying in the current, once all 14 of us were splashing around, we released the sediment from the seagrass and reduced the visibility to basically nothing. Having completed our 3 survey methods for the day, we then talked about the pros and cons of each method. We’d have to wait a while to be able to look at the BRUV footage, but between seining and snorkeling, seining proved to be the more effective method of seeing animals.
After we ate our lunch and reapplied sunscreen, we sat back down on the beach and dove into the service component of our program: a flash (20-minute) beach clean-up. To put the issue of marine pollution in perspective, we first took turns reading marine pollution facts, including that (1) Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century, and Miami disposes of 700,000 straws per day; (2) By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight, and (3) Over 90% of all seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. We discussed how these facts made us feel (sad, disgusted, discouraged) as well as simple actions people could make to minimize their waste’s impact on our oceans. Next up, we split back into our Cosmic Coral and Sun-Kissed Sea teams and collected as much garbage as we could find in 20 minutes. The results were, well… depressing. Our teams managed to easily fill their large paper bags and found some items so big that they couldn’t fit. But the small pieces are just as important as the big – and maybe even more! It’s the small pieces that can appear to be food to small fish, and since animal bodies can’t break down plastic, it either blocks the fish’s digestive system, reduces their urge to eat, and changes their feeding behavior. As these small fish get eaten, the number of microplastics grow as we move up the food chain, and we humans end up consuming small bits of our own garbage when we eat seafood, mainly shellfish. While this conversation sounds pretty depressing, we finished on an optimistic note by thinking of ways we can reduce our family and community’s consumption of single-use plastics, like shifting to reusable straws (or not using one), reusable coffee mugs and water bottles, reusable grocery and produce bags, and buying products that have less packaging.
We finished our jam-packed program with one final activity, which involved embarking on a ¾ mile walk across the causeway to the Rickenbacker Marina, where Field School’s Research Vessel Garvin is docked. The Research Vessel Garvin’s history includes being a shipwreck dive vessel in the Northeast for several decades, before she was brought down to Miami by the Field School crew in 2016. Field School primarily runs week-long expeditions and marine science courses for college-aged students aboard Garvin, but also sometimes gets hired for different jobs, including being the filming platform for a SharkWeek show “Shark Cam” in 2018, and helping test passenger submersibles in the Bahamas. We at Terranaut Club feel very fortunate to partner with them a few times a year to offer programming for girls that centers around marine science and conservation. With what little time we had left in our Junior Marine Biologist program, we managed to sneak in a quick tour, which mostly included seeing if we could fit (and imagine actually sleeping) in Garvin’s smaller-than-average bunks. While we’re sure the girls would have been happy to fall asleep right then and there after our long day in the sun, we sent everyone home to share their stories of learning what it’s like to be a marine biologist.
Thank you to our amazing participants, volunteer Instructors Dr. Catherine Macdonald, Kylie Spado, and Marissa Debonis, and our wonderful photographer Christian Pankow. More photos form our day can be found on our Facebook page.
To learn more about Field School, head to www.getintothefield.com